Belated trigger warning: If you are a person of color, please know you are welcome to read this post. However, I understand discussion of these issues can be painful, disappointing, and exhausting, especially discussion of white obliviousness to the realities of white privilege and systemic racism. I discuss these issues in this post as well as the way society indoctrinates especially white women into a system of white supremacy. My hope is to help initiate other white women who are just coming on line with all of this now in the hopes of easing the burden on black activists. – Heather, June 15, 2020
Not an art post. But I think it’s important to post these thoughts as broadly as possible, so here you are. This is for all the white women out there, I’ve been thinking about some things. Yesterday, I attended a Women’s March webinar about what white women should do in this moment of Black Lives Matter and I thought I would share some thoughts.
Disclaimer: I am not pretending to have all the answers and I’m sure I’ve said one or two clumsy things here. I am also not suggesting that all my white friends aren’t already there or, in some cases, aren’t way ahead of me. But, if you are new to all of these topics, I might be able to help articulate a few ideas I’ve been grappling with, not just now but basically since the first women’s march. You might also wonder why I should be addressing only white women or speaking for black women (I’m not trying to). It’s just that black women deserve a break from having to explain all this to us so I’m going to pick up the burden a little.
As white women, we obviously live in a society that is structurally racist and patriarchal. We are both disadvantaged by this system, but reap benefits. Since time immemorial, the path of especially middle class and upper class white women has been this: go to school, get good grades (but don’t act smarter than the boys), get a seat at the popular table, go to college, (be straight and cisgender), have a rom-com story, spend 6 mos- a year planning a wedding, very soon after the wedding, get asked about kids, have kids, get asked about whether you are going to work or not, homeschool, etc (because homeschooling falls disproportionately on mothers), eventually you become a grandmother, and then your “perfect” role in life is fulfilled. Women who have veered from that path have been mildly to severely punished, depending on the decade/century. The result is, many of us have been conditioned to take the path of least resistance because it’s so tempting to just withdraw into your protected life. That life is pretty nice and comfortable, right?
But then someone like Amy Cooper comes along.
I was obviously horrified and grieved by George Floyd’s killing. There are really just no words for what we saw there. But the video of Amy Cooper had a slightly different effect on me. That video made me want to dig a hole, cover myself, and hide forever. It was grotesque to watch this woman fraudulently call the police on a perfectly innocent man. If we didn’t understand the phrase “weaponized white privilege” before, I think we all do now. Amy Cooper is its poster child.
But the thing about watching her behavior as a white woman is, even if what she did was something you wouldn’t do, it’s something you could do. Just think about that for a minute. Being confronted with that power is very scary. And it’s really tempting to do what is available to us, which is to fade back into our comfortable lives without commenting, speaking out, or taking action of any kind.
I guess waking up to those two things — the comforting, protective structures that maintain our positions in life alongside our power to rain down hell on anyone we don’t like who is non-white — has been the work I’m doing.
Seeing both sides of that sword clearly, though, creates a moment of potential. It shows us white women that we have a lot of power in this society, whether we individually feel it or not. The case of Amy Cooper reveals the violent side of that power, but I think it also reveals we aren’t helpless and maybe we can do something positive with that power. A good example of that is the white women who lined up to protect black protesters from riot police. In a moment like that, you see another flavor of women’s power: women are more likely to be the caretakers, caregivers, and peacemakers in any given situation. We can use that for good.
We also, many of us, have economic power. And we also have voting power.
Did you know white women form the biggest voting block in the US? If we all voted in unison, we could solve so many issues of poverty, climate change, structural racism…. We could SOLVE these things. All by ourselves.
Of course, the system, the status quo definitely doesn’t want white women to wake up to that reality. The reality is that, unlike other groups, we are separated by many factors such as religion, regionalism, pressure from family, and certainly race, sexual orientation and many other things.
Still, there is a lot of potential in this moment for us to use our power and at the very least, to start to have more uncomfortable conversations about these issues and to confront the racism in our own attitudes. That has to be the first step.
Thank you so much for reading to the end of this very long screed. I hope to God it may be helpful for at least one or two people.
By the way, here are some resources that were shared in that webinar if you want to go further. I haven’t read all these yet, but certainly recommend anything by Ibram Xendi, Angela Davis, and bell hooks.
Women, Race and Class (Angela Davis)
Killing Rage: Ending Racism (bell hooks)
Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement: A Radical Democratic Vision (Dr. Barbara Ransby)
Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Movements (Charlene A. Carruthers)
Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Ibram X Kendi)
Raising Our Hands (Jenna Arnold)
Beyond the Pale: White Women, Racism, and History (Vron Ware)
White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack (Peggy McIntosh)
White Supremacy Culture (Tema Okun) (NOTE: This tool centers cultural experiences of white people with class privilege as white culture)
Southerners On New Ground (SONG) ‘There is Honor in Struggle, There is Honor in the Work
And here again is the webinar recording if you want to watch it: